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Monday, March 26, 2012

#179 Red-Rumped Parrot

Female (l) and male (r) red-rumped parrots
Psephotus haematonotus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Royal Park, Melbourne, Australia
Time: 1735 AEDT March 25, 2012

Though they don't have the brightest colours or the boldest patterns, I think the red-rumped parrot is one of the best looking Australian parrots.

Only the males have the distinctive red rump, visible below.

#178 Galah

Eolophus roseicapilla
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Royal Park, Melbourne, Australia
Time: AEDT March 25, 2012

#177 Grey Butcherbird

Cracticus torquatus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Royal Park, Melbourne, Australia
Time: 1730 AEDT March 25, 2012

Here's a video of the above bird singing briefly:

#176 White-Plumed Honeyeater

White-plumed honeyeater with distinctive white neck marking visible
Lichenostomus penicillatus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Time: 1600 AEDT March 25, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

120 Kilopods Turns One

Blue Whale skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC

Well, it's been one year since my first post on this blog, and since I began this challenge. I've posted 175 species, in five different countries, on two (and a half) continents.

American black bear in Yosemite National Park

Here's a brief summary of what I've seen, in graph form. Blue represents my tetrapods, red represents the total numbers of tetrapods.

Tetrapod species breakdown by group
The phylogenetic purists amongst you may take issue with my use of the group "Reptile". While commonly used as one of the four divisions of the tetrapods, reptiles is not an evolutionarily "real" group, or clade, as the birds fall within the other reptilian groups. The closest living relatives of the birds are the crocodilians, and the two together form the archosaurs, along with the extinct dinosaurs and pterosaurs. The archosaurs are then the sister group of the lepidosaurians, which includes lizards, snakes, amphisbaenians and tuatara. The testudines (turtles, tortoises and terrapins) are in turn the sister group to all the other extant reptiles. Much more information can be found on the Reptile article on Wikipedia.

For practical reasons I didn't break the reptiles down into these groups, as the lepidosaurians make up 96% of all the non-avian reptiles, so the other two groups wouldn't even be visible on this graph. As for my numbers, I saw 8 lepidosaurians (4.57% of all my tets), 1 testudine (0.57%) and 1 crocodilian.

Tetrapod species breakdown by country
Put another way, I have seen about 7% of the total number of tetrapods found in Canada and New Zealand, and about 1.5% of the tetrapods in each of Mexico, USA and Australia.

Tetrapod species breakdown by IUCN redlist classification: Ex Extinct; Ew Extinct in the Wild; Cr Critically Endangered; En Endangered; Vu Vulnerable; Cd Low risk-Conservation dependent; Nt Near Threatened; Lc Least Concern; Dd Data Deficient; Ne Not Evaluated.
Unsurprisingly I've mostly seen species in the Least Concern category, as they represent just under 50% of all tetrapod species, and not being endangered are also the more common species.

Some milestones from the past year include species number 30 (or 0.1% of all the tetrapods), the hairy woodpecker Picoides villosus; and species number 100, the groove-billed ani - not just a significant number, but a bird I've been interested in for some time (though I'm not entirely sure why).

Unidentified hummingbird at Lake Catemaco, Mexico

On average I've seen almost one tetrapod every two days, a rate I'm pleased with, though I'd like to get more. For the next year I am setting myself a goal of 365 species. I don't have any major travel planned, like my trip to the USA and Mexico last year, which will make things a bit less easy, but I think I can get it done.

Great egret at Lake Catemaco, Mexico

As for my readership, well... I won't embarrass myself by quoting numbers, but I can tell you that January this year had the highest number of hits by far, though I expect March to overtake it very soon, and February is coming in third. The top 5 most popular posts are:
1. #160 Tieke
2. #159 Popokatea
3. #54 Acorn Woodpecker
4. #90 Emerald-chinned Hummingbird
5. #77 Eastern Phoebe

Takahē on Tiritiri Matangi Island
So that's it, one year, 366 days of tetrapods. Here's to the next.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shortfin Eel

Not a tetrapod, obviously, but fascinating creatures nonetheless. I couldn't make a 100% positive identification, what with the murky water, and the eels always being on the move, but I'm pretty sure these were shortfin eels, Anguilla australis. These were at Western Springs Park in Auckland, where I got a few tets recently. They are one of 3 species living in New Zealand, the others being the endemic longfin eel, A. dieffenbachii, and the recently arrived Australian or speckled longfin eel, A. reinhardtii.

Like all members of the genus, the shortfin eel is catadromous, living most of its life in freshwater, then returning to the sea to spawn. Where exactly they spawn is not known, but it is believed to be somewhere in the deep tropical seas north of New Zealand. It is not restricted to New Zealand, but also lives in Australia, on oceanic islands such as Norfolk and Lord Howe Island, and on New Caledonia.

A curious eel checks out my camera
The New Zealand longfin eel is the one of the largest eels in the world, reaching over 2m and 40+ kg, though such specimens are rare these days. They were even featured on the Animal Planet show River Monsters, as stories exist of them attacking people, particularly during the settlement of New Zealand, when there would have been more exceptionally large individuals about. I've embedded below a video of someone feeding some large longfin eels, and there are plenty more videos on youtube if you care to search for them. The shortfin eels at Western Springs Park are also accustomed to being fed, though most of them would be about 50cm long, and you could encircle their bodies with a thumb and forefinger. It does mean they are very inquisitive though, and whenever I put my camera in the water they would come up and put their snouts on the lens.

Monday, March 12, 2012

#175 Silvereye

Zosterops lateralis
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Meola Reef, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1300 NZDT March 10, 2012

Yeah, that's a terrible photo, but they move too quickly to get a better one

#174 Pied Cormorant

Phalacrocorax varius
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Western Springs Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1215 NZDT March 10, 2012

#173 Little Pied Cormorant

Microcarbo melanoleucus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Western Springs Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1140 NZDT March 10, 2012

#172 Karoro

Larus dominicanus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Western Springs Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1130 NZDT March 10, 2012

#171 Papango

Aythya novaeseelandiae
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Western Springs Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1130 NZDT March 10, 2012

Papango, or New Zealand Scaup

#170 Red-billed Gull

Chroicocephalus scopulinus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Western Springs Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1030 NZDT March 10, 2012

#169 Little Black Cormorant

Phalacrocorax sulcirostris
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Western Springs Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Time: 1030 NZDT March 10, 2012

#168 Moko Skink

Oligosoma moco
IUCN Redlist: Not Evaluated
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1500 NZDT March 9, 2012

#167 Hihi

Notiomystis cincta
IUCN Redlist: Vulnerable
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1410 NZDT March 9, 2012

The hihi, or stitchbird, is not, at first glance, a very striking bird. About the same size as a korimako, bell miner or a little smaller than a starling, they aren't particularly brightly coloured, the males a bit more so than the females.

They make a kind of tsit noise, particularly when a person is invading their space, from which they get their common name They also have a variety of other calls, but they are not reknowned songsters.

Once you look a bit closer though, they have some quite unique features and habits.

They were long thought to be in the honeyeater, Meliphagidae, and they do compete with the two New Zealand honeyeaters species, korimako and tui. They are the least dominant of the three, so when korimako and tui are abundant they forced to utilise lower quality food sources. Recent work has shown, however, that they are sufficiently distinct to warrant a family of their own, Notiomystidae, and that their closest relatives are the NZ wattlebirds, Calleiadae. 

Like the wattlebirds, the stitchbirds are also recovering from near-extinction. Formerly ranging across the North Island, they became extirpated everywhere except Little Barrier Island in the outer Hauraki Gulf. They are now being introduced to sanctuaries like Tiritiri Matangi, as well as predator-controlled areas on the mainland such as Ark in the Park. However, on Tiri, which lacks mature forest, they require supplementary feeders to get them through the year. Still, they are slowly but surely making a comeback.

Hihi preening and pooping, on a water trough on Tiritiri Matangi

But it's in their breeding behaviour that hihi are most unusual. Besides the common one male-one female thing, a female hihi may mate and nest with two or more males, or a male with multiple females, or indeed multiple males and multiple females all nesting together. They also have extra-pair copulation, which may be a male forcing itself on a female. And they do one thing no other bird is known to do: they sometimes mate face-to-face, which seems to be used during forced copulation. Below is a diagram from Castro et al. (1995) showing the variety of mating postures used:


Castro, I, Minot, EO, Fordham, RA, & Birkhead, TR. 1995. Polygynandry, face-to-face copulation and sperm competition in the hihi Notiomystis cincta (Aves: Meliphagidae). Ibis 138: 765-771

Saturday, March 10, 2012

#166 Piwakawaka

Rhipidura fuliginosa
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1350 NZDT March 9, 2012

The piwakawaka, or New Zealand fantail, is sometimes classified as conspecific with the grey fantail of Australia, Rhipidura (fuliginosa) albiscapa.

#165 North Island Robin

Petroica longipes
IUCN Redlist: Not Evaluated (Least Concern)
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1240 NZDT March 9, 2012

The North Island robin, unlike some of the other species I've posted lately, is not extremely endangered, and still persists at many locations on the mainland. Like the takahe, however, it is larger than its close relatives - reaching 35g, compared to a max of 14g for other members of its genus in Australia*.

The North Island robin was formerly classified as a subspecies of the New Zealand robin P. australis, which is the classification scheme still used by the IUCN, hence why it is not evaluated on the Redlist.

A close relative the Chatham Island or Black Robin, P. traversi, is famous for hitting a population low of just 5 birds, with only a single fertile female, before it was brought back from the brink by Don Merton and the New Zealand Wildlife Service. Some of the techniques used were first developed during the rescue and recovery of the tieke.

*According to the best figures I could find

#164 Takahē

Porphyrio hochstetteri
IUCN Redlist: Endangered
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1200 NZDT March 9, 2012

The takahe are without doubt the stars of Tiritiri Matangi. They are also famous for having returned from (presumed) extinction after 50 years of absence. Takahe are the largest living rail, and are flightless. They evolved from pukeko, or a pukeko-like ancestor, which presumably flew to New Zealand from Australia. Another species, the North Island Takahe, or Moho, may have survived until the late 19th Century, but is only known from subfossil remains. The takahe, moho and pukeko all represent independent colonisation events.

Reappearing Act

Takahe formerly ranged across the South Island, but after European settlement were known from only 4 specimens, collected in 1849, 1851, 1879 and 1898. After the turn of the century takahe were presumed to be extinct. Geoffrey Orbell, however, believed that the takahe survived somewhere in the depths of Fiordland, and spent a lot of time searching for it. In 1948 he was searching among the mountains on the western side of Lake Te Anau, and found a set of unfamiliar footprints. Following them, he rediscovered the takahe on the 20th of November, 50 years after the last specimen was collected.

The takahe had been squeezed by introduced species into a refuge high in the Murchison Mountains. Mainly eating the tender base of tussock grasses, takahe were facing competition from deer, as well as predation by species like stoats. Soon after their rediscovery their habitat in the Murchison Mountains was set aside as the Takahe Special Area, and efforts at captive breeding began in 1957, but their population continued to decline, reaching a nadir of 118 animals in 1981. The effort to protect takahe was intensified, including control of pest species, captive breeding and introduction to predator-free sanctuaries. Today takahe live in two areas in Fiordland, four islands, the Burwood Bush Captive Rearing Unit, and Maungatautari Ecological Island (a fenced, predator-free sanctuary). A few individuals used for outreach and advocacy are also kept at the Mt. Bruce and Te Anau Wildlife Centres, as well as at Zealandia Sanctuary in Wellington.

Juvenile takahe on Tiritiri Matangi
The total population was estimated at 227 birds in 2008, with 93 in the Murchison Mountains, 91 on islands and 36 at Burwood Bush. In addition takahe sightings are occasionally reported from areas of Fiordland outside the Murchison Mountains, but it is too rugged to attempt to find them all.

Takahe (right) and pukeko (left) feeding on grass near the lighthouse on Tiritiri Matangi
The population on Tiritiri Matangi is about 10 birds, and is believed to be at carrying capacity. The island populations are managed as a single population, with birds moved between islands to maintain genetic diversity. One bird on Tiri, called Greg, has developed a taste for human food, and has become very confident, attempting to take food from people's hands, and stealing from bags. I'm sure there are other examples, but it's not common for such a rare bird to be in a sanctuary that is open to the public like Tiritiri Matangi is, so it always feels like quite a privilege to visit.

Though the takahe, being flightless, might be considered "captive" on Tiritiri Matangi, I'm counting them since they are breeding there - and since all takahe are intensively managed, even the Fiordland populations aren't exactly much different from these ones, you're just not allowed to enter their habitat without a permit.


Wickes, C.; Crouchley, D.; Maxwell, J. 2009: Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) recovery plan 2007–2012. Threatened Species Recovery Plan 61. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 56 p.

#163 Red-crowned Parakeet

Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae
IUCN Redlist: Vulnerable
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1200 NZDT March 9, 2012

The red-crowned parakeet, or kakariki (the Maori name for several related species, also used for the colour green) is one of at least 8 species of parrot native to New Zealand. It was formerly considered conspecific with the Norfolk Island, New Caledonian and Reischek's parakeets, which have now been granted full species status. The subspecies from the Chatham and Kermadec Islands are also sometimes considered full species, while the extinct Lord Howe Island subspecies is sometimes considered a subspecies of the Norfolk Island Parakeet, and the two together have been dubbed the Tasman Parakeet.

#162 Pāteke

Pāteke pair on Tiritiri Matangi
Anas chlorotis
IUCN Redlist: Endangered
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1145 NZDT March 9, 2012

The pāteke, or brown teal, is a rare and endangered small duck. It reached a population nadir in the early 2000s at about 800 wild individuals, but thanks to the work of the Department of Conservation, and many dedicated volunteers and supporters, its numbers are rising. The main stronghold of the species is on Great Barrier Island, in the outer Hauraki Gulf. It has been reintroduced to Tiritiri Matangi, the northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula, and various sanctuaries such as Karori in Wellington.

Pāteke habitat on Great Barrier Island, 2008
The pāteke was formerly thought to be conspecific with the Campbell Island and Auckland Island Teals, which are only found on the subantarctic islands after which they are named. They have now been split into three species, A. chlorotis, A. nesiotis (Campbell Island) and A. aucklandica (Auckland Island). The two subantarctic species are both flightless, while the mainland species can fly, though not strongly.
Pāteke foraging on Great Barrier Island, 2008
The Auckland Island Teal population remains stable, as one of the islands in the group is free of introduced pests. The Campbell Island Teal, however, was until recently in an even more dire situation than the pāteke. Campbell Island was overrun with rats, and the teal was restricted to Dent Island, a pretty barren rock just 64 acres in area. The teal had likely been restricted to this island for decades, and probably numbered no more than 100 birds. Then, in 2001, rats were eradicated from Campbell Island by an aerial drop of pesticide, the largest island pest eradication ever successfully undertaken. Since then captive bred teal have been returned to Campbell Island, and probably made their own way over from Dent Island too. The population is now rising, and things are finally looking up for these three species of teal.
Pāteke on Tiritiri Matangi
A lot of useful information about pāteke can be found at

#161 Pukeko

Pukeko on Tiritiri Matangi Island
Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus
IUCN Redlist: Least Concern
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1120 NZDT March 9, 2012

The pukeko, known elsewhere as the purple swamphen or the purple gallinule (but not to be confused with the American Purple Gallinule, P. martinica) is a very widespread species, found in Madagascar, Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific Islands. It may, however, be split into two or more species at some point in the future.

Pukeko at Western Springs Park, Auckland

Pukeko are a close relative of the most famous inhabitants of Tiritiri Matangi, the takahe, which I will be posting about soon.

Pukeko at Western Springs Park. There is a black fluffy chick at the upper right
Pukeko, specifically the Australasian subspecies P. p. melanotus, were recently featured in the zoologger column at New Scientist for their unsual breeding habits. The pukeko isn't the only New Zealand bird with unusual breeding behaviour: the hihi, or stitchbird, also has some unorthodox habits, and I will be posting on the hihi soon as well.